May 8, 2011


Grab the reins of power (Shahid Saeed, 5/05/11, DAWN.COM)

What we know today is that this is possibly the biggest embarrassment the military has faced in a long, long time. Forget 1971, it was far more morally disastrous but it had its jingoistic and racist supporters, but even in the eyes of the khaki-apologist, today the military is naked and deserving of criticism. The khaki apologist who becomes a constitutionalist when it comes to the failings of the army (the politicians are the constitutional power holders, they guided the actions, they “sold the country”, not the Army – is the usual defence) and are cognizant of the military’s powers only when it is on the good side of things, is angry today too. There are too many questions.

Did we protect him? Did we give him refuge? Why would we do that? If not, did we ignore his presence? Are we this incompetent? Did the Field Intelligence Unit (FIU) never ask a question about a mysterious seven kanal house with a three-story building, built by settlers known from being Waziristan? Is the holy mother of all agencies so inept and useless that in the sweeps done around areas visited regularly by the Army Chief and the upper hierarchy, they never got suspicious of the house and its residents? How did bin Laden come to Abbottabad in the first place? Did he take a Rs. 70, 13-seater Hiace ride from Mansehra and stop off at the Baloch Regimental Center?

If not, then why did they allow a foreign power to come in and hunt him down? Did our forces coordinate and collaborate with the US on the raid? Why are they not speaking? It is not as if they would not want to take credit for it. The logic of avoiding the local terrorists’ wrath is just too pathetic, they already target us. Mullah Omar’s, Hekmatyar’s and Haqqani’s anger be damned, this is their protector we are talking about. It is stupid, nay unimaginable, that our forces collaborated extensively and do not want to take credit for it. They would not risk inviting the wrath of the international media that they have called upon themselves today.

And then there is the ultimate nightmare. If they did not know about the operation, then really, like the Foreign Office in its poorly worded, shamefully funny press statement says, we failed to respond in time to nothing less than an invasion? At cruise speed, terrain hugging and avoiding radars, a UH-60 “Blackhawk” (or even the secretive stealth helicopter that are rumoured to have been used, although non-stealth Chinooks are alleged to have provided support too) would have easily spent more than 30 minutes inside Pakistani territory before the soldiers roped down into the compound. A 40-minute operation and then the return ride. In all, the US team spent at least an hour-and-a-half inside Pakistan and we failed to respond? Were our radars jammed completely? Did we even fail to respond to visual sighting of a bunch of helicopters? Is our response time so slow? With three regimental centres in a highly militarised town, no one was able to answer to a 40-minute ground operation by foreign forces? Are our defenses so inept and weak? Did we scramble jets? When did we, if, realise that it was a friendly country conducting an anti-terrorism raid and not “the enemy”? What is the purpose of keeping the armed forces if they consume such a large chunk of our budget and fail to respond to nothing less than an invasion that lasted for 90 full minutes?

I am, for not a single moment, arguing we should have shot down the Americans. I for one believe they did the right thing. For all we know, it was the nightmare we have, that some sympathetic group in our very forces protected the most wanted man on Earth. The questions I pose are the multitude that people from various facets of life and inclinations ask. They ask what would happen if India were to carry out the “surgical strike” that their jingoists threaten of? They ask, yes India is not the United States, but how could our air defense systems be so easily jammed and fooled and tricked? They ask, what is the response time to an invasion? What is the purpose of an Army that let’s others not just operate in its territory, but come in, operate and go back?

So, today, we are at a point where the Army’s defenses are weak. It is being criticised by the international community and ever so slightly, by locals too. But the criticism is weak and non-existent in comparison to what it should be. This is the time when the Army is rightfully exposed to the most criticism. If you ever held any views on civil-military balance that did not hold civilians in contempt, right now is the time to shout and be heard.

If there’s anything that can be guaranteed, it is that the military will remain the most dominant player in the echelons of power for the times to come. And because that will happen, we will continue to fight for “strategic depth” in Afghanistan, we will continue to hold India as the mortal enemy, we will continue to amass even more nuclear weapons, procure even more fighter jets and buy another air refueler and what not. We will remain an impoverished, militarised, third world country. And as long as we remain militarised, and existing only to fight against the mythical enemy, the schools will remain dysfunctional, the hospitals non-existent and the people, poor, hungry and malnutritioned.

Barely 40 hours before the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or SEAL Team Six, fast roped down into the compound of Osama bin Laden, our Army Chief told a ceremony at the annual ‘Youm-e-Shuhuda’ (Day of the Martyrs) that prosperity must not come at the cost of honour and dignity. Where was the honour and dignity when, like the Foreign Office says, soldiers from another country basically invaded ours, operated and went back, without even so much as a bird being swatted in response?

The political process is an evolutionary one. Slowly, and slowly, we are moving towards a functional democracy. A Public Accounts Committee functions well today, maybe another institution of accountability and justice and public service will improve tomorrow. The politics of urbanisation is here. But amongst all this evolutionary change, unless the fish with the small legs comes out of the water, the process of evolution will face the ultimate barrier – the military. have a military that would stand any chance against America, Israel, and India, which is the alliance they face.

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Posted by at May 8, 2011 6:32 PM

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